A Lack of Back­pack­你的背包

That's China - - Contents - Text by / Hannah Lund

Big back­packs are for the long haul, which means a life com­pressed and de­part­men­talised; all the daily ne­ces­si­ties are pared down, or in some cases, sim­ply cre­ated in smaller sizes. Back­packs, then, seem to be the ob­vi­ous choice for those far away from ‘home’; It’s home in a bag. But for some rea­son, this is not the case for most Chi­nese trav­el­ers.

“Please keep clean.” When I saw this sign on the overnight bus to Bangkok, I couldn’t help think­ing that it was aimed at those of us schlep­ping our back­packs through the cramped aisle. Back­pack­ers tend to carry the a lot of the road along with them, and this par­tic­u­lar bus was no ex­cep­tion. Grimy from count­less bus rides, cheap hostels, shoddy show­ers and late nights, “Please keep clean” is prob­a­bly a fair enough re­quest.

Any­way, that bus ride marked a new kind of ex­po­sure to back­pack­ers for me, be­cause ev­ery sin­gle pas­sen­ger was a back­packer in some form or an­other. Some had worn back­packs, some had new ones with hooks and shoes and pans dan­gling off of the back, some had beads and flow­ers tied onto the zip­pers, flip-flops teth­ered to the side and a beach ball peek­ing out of the top. Some trav­el­ers had their en­tire lives in those bags, and some were just putting things into the bag for lack of bet­ter lug­gage. Many had two back­packs: a big one for the main ar­ti­cles, and then a smaller one worn on the front of the body, mak­ing most ma­neu­vers look like some­thing out of a Char­lie Chap­lin movie. My own back­pack was one I bor­rowed from a friend, com­plete with straps, buck­les and more com­part­ments than you could shake a stick at. And so, like wad­dling ducks, we joined this rag-tag col­lec­tion of trav­el­ers with our hal­lowed back­packs.

In the re­cent Spring Fes­ti­val mi­gra­tion, al­most all of China hit the road. I was with them last year, and my back­pack came along for the ride. But to my sur­prise, many Chi­nese trav­el­ers did not carry back­packs. If I ran into an­other Westerner, I could be sure to see a back­pack bob­bing be­hind. Big back­packs are for the long haul, which means a life com­pressed and de­part­men­talised; all the daily ne­ces­si­ties are pared down, or in some cases, sim­ply cre­ated in smaller sizes. Back­packs, then, seem to be the ob­vi­ous choice for those far away from ‘home’; It’s home in a bag. But for some rea­son, this is not the case for most Chi­nese trav­el­ers.

Per­haps it’s be­cause there’s such a va­ri­ety of lug­gage in China. Sure, stu­dents and the new breed of Chi­nese back­pack­ers may well opt for a back­pack, but more pop­u­lar are the large rolling suit­cases, or trol­leys, onto which women perch purses whilst wait­ing for which ever mode of trans­port they are us­ing that day. Then you’ve got the ever pop­u­lar (and cheap) checked plas­tic bags into which God knows what is crammed, and - my per­sonal fa­vorite - the huge paint buck­ets that dou­bleup as seats when none are avail­able. On top of all this you’ve also got the im­pres­sive va­ri­ety of bags used to sim­ply trans­port food to con­tend with. I’ve seen rice sacks, carpet bags, crab boxes, veg­etable sacks – you name it, the Chi­nese will haul it. But se­ri­ously guys: what’s wrong with the reli­able and con­ve­nient back­pack? China’s re­luc­tance to em­brace this uni­ver­sally loved travel item has been a mys­tery for me ever since I came to China. What is it about the back­pack? Why does it seem to be more of a Western thing? And, of course, why do so many trav­el­ers in­sist on rolling suit­cases when there are so many stairs to climb? In the end, I sup­pose it’s a mys­tery I won’t lose any sleep over. I mean, af­ter all, what­ever bag you de­cide to use, re­gard­less of how in­con­ve­nient it looks, the in­tent is the same: to carry our lives with us for a while whilst on the road, and, of course, to re­move with care once home.

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